Wales to press ahead with minimum unit alcohol pricing

Author: Caroline White
Wales to press ahead with minimum unit alcohol pricing

The Welsh government will press ahead with plans to set a minimum unit price of 50p for alcohol in Wales, following the results of a public consultation, health minister Vaughan Gething has announced.

Ministers have made it clear that pricing must be a key component of the Welsh government’s strategy to tackle alcohol misuse, not least because the affordability of alcohol has increased significantly over the past two decades.

The National Assembly has already thrown its weight behind minimum pricing with the passage of the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill last year. 

The 2018 Act aims to safeguard the health of hazardous and harmful drinkers who tend to consume a large quantity of low-cost and high-strength alcohol.

It provides a formula for calculating the applicable minimum price for alcohol by multiplying the percentage strength of the alcohol, its volume, and the minimum unit price, in a bid to target the sale and supply of low-cost and high-strength alcohol. 

In 2017, there were 540 deaths linked to alcohol in Wales and in 2017-18, there were nearly 55,000 associated hospital admissions.

A summary of the responses to the consultation on the preferred minimum unit price of 50p was published at the end of last week.

While many responses backed the principle of minimum unit pricing, some also raised issues about the potential unintended consequences of introducing it.

But ministers remain convinced that a 50p minimum unit price is a proportionate response to tackling the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

The Welsh government will therefore lay regulations to the National Assembly for Wales, specifying this level, later this year.

Health minister, Vaughan Gething said: “Following a public consultation, I’m pleased to confirm we will now ask the National Assembly for Wales to approve a 50p minimum unit price. We believe a 50p minimum unit price strikes a reasonable balance between the anticipated public health and social benefits and intervention in the market.

“We will continue to use all available levers to reduce the harms caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol, as we develop and take forward a new delivery plan for substance misuse.”

He added: “The consultation process raised a number of issues, such as the potential impacts on vulnerable groups, household budgets, the risk of switching to other substances and the potential increase in the number of people seeking support from services. We will continue to consider these potential impacts. We have commissioned specific research to look at the risk of switching, which will report ahead of implementation.”

In December the Welsh government pledged an extra £2.4m for Area Planning Boards for local frontline substance misuse services to boost availability of services.